Every year around the holidays, readers ask about ways to volunteer with their children in New York City. Surprisingly, finding ways to give back with kids isn't always as easy as you'd think. Many charitable organizations have age minimums for their projects, and family-friendly volunteering opportunities often book up weeks in advance. (Which, of course, is a good sign—better to have too many people interested in volunteering than not enough.)
With Thanksgiving approaching, we wanted to highlight some great ways NYC kids and their parents can give back to those in need. We're including opportunities for children of all ages so everyone can participate. While kids might not be able to work in a soup kitchen, they can help the homeless, hungry, and elderly in other meaningful ways.
By the way, many of these volunteering slots are open all year round (it's not only the holidays that find families in need). So if one of your favorite volunteering options isn't available ON Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, consider signing up on a random weekend or two during the year, just because...
Read on for a list of family-friendly ways to put the "giving" in your Thanksgiving, and beyond.
The Race to Deliver raises money for meals for the needy. Photo by Jessica Frankl/courtesy of GLWD.
The Race to Deliver — Central Park
Sunday, November 24; 8:30am for adult race; 10:15am for kids' races
This God's Love We Deliver fundraiser is super-fun for kids. This four-mile adults' run/walk in Central Park is followed by a variety of children's races. The fundraising goal for this year is once again $415,000. Sign up as a family, join a pre-existing team, or sponsor a runner or team.
The 2019 Thousand Turkey Challenge — Upper West Side
Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew
263 West 86th Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue
Monday, November 25 from 9am – 8pm; Tuesday, November 26 from 9am – 8pm; Wednesday, November 27 from 9am – 1pm
Pick up a frozen turkey and donate it to the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), which provides Thanksgiving staples to local low-income families. More than 2,000 families received turkeys and other seasonal foods at the church's emergency pantry last year. Small turkeys up to 14 pounds are preferred. You can also donate online via the website or text TURKEY to 56512 on your smartphone ($18 per turkey). Volunteering opportunities: Kids ages 14 and up can volunteer to help in the pantry, the clothing closet, kitchen or mobile market. Children under 14 can volunteer in the company of an adult.
Kids can pack meals and make holiday cards with FeedingNYC 2018. Photo by Jonathan Wolff/courtesy of FeedingNYC.
FeedingNYC 2019 — Chelsea
Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers
23rd Street and the West Side Highway
Tuesday, November 26, shifts run all day beginning at 6am
Since 2001, this grassroots organization has delivered more than 75,000 complete Thanksgiving meals to New York City families in shelters. Team up with 400 volunteers to pack and deliver meals. All ages can participate, but volunteers younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult and have a signed waiver. Register online, $35 per person.
Thanksgiving Morning Meal Delivery — Citywide
Thursday, November 28
God's Love We Deliver prepares and delivers nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses. Volunteers can sign up to help prepare and deliver meals in locations around the city. While this project takes place on Thanksgiving morning, families should have plenty of time for their own festivities. Volunteer drivers must have a driver's license and their own car, and register in advance. Kids are welcome to participate. Their presence cheers up any delivery. There is a cap to the volunteers they can accept, and certain neighborhoods fill up fast, so register now if you want to help. Some destinations already have wait lists.
Kids are welcome to help grown-ups pack meals at Gobble Gobble Give NYC. Photo by Timothy Holland/courtesy of the event.
Gobble Gobble Give NYC — Harlem
The Church of the Intercession, 550 West 155th Street
Thursday November 28, 8am–12:30pm (sign up for one of three shifts)
This volunteer organization collects potluck dishes, along with toiletries and blankets, and delivers hot meals and care packages to the homeless around the city on Thanksgiving Day. All work is complete by 12:30pm so you can enjoy your own holiday dinner. Volunteer tasks include kitchen crew, conveyor belt crew, food boxers, vehicle coordinators, drivers, and cleanup. Children are welcome with an adult. Volunteers must register online and everyone is required to bring a Thanksgiving dish. Registration begins in early November. Visit the website to sign up.
Serve a Hot Meal to the Homeless — Upper East Side
Manhattan Church of Christ, 48 East 80th Street
Saturday, November 30, 10am - 2pm
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Manhattan Church of Christ opens its doors to serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal to the homeless. All shifts are family-friendly for volunteers of all ages, and involve a set-up team to set tables and decorate, a service team to run trays of food back and forth to the guests, and a break down and clean up team. Email Rev. Carl Garrison, Outreach Minister, to sign up to volunteer at email@example.com.
More Holiday Volunteer Options
Food Bank's Supper Klub for Kids — Upper West Side/Harlem
252 West 116th Street
The City’s first EVER community kitchen by kids, for kids, gives young New Yorkers an opportunity to make a BIG impact for neighbors in need. Food Bank created The Supper Klub as a safe and stigma-free space where kids can build a community with peers around good food, great fun, and awesome service. Kids ages 5-19 can be volunteers (kids ages 5-12 must be accompanied by an adult). Guest diners are also restricted to kids ages 5-19.
Dorot's Card-Making Program – Citywide
The community-based organization Dorot has plenty of family-friendly volunteer opportunities to ease the stress homebound seniors face. Its card-making program is easy for even young volunteers. Families are asked to create birthday or holiday cards, and mail them to Dorot. The organization then mails your crafty creations to homebound seniors to brighten their holiday.
CAMBA – Brooklyn
Bag up some gently used items around your house, or purchase some new clothes and toiletries with your kids (let them pick some items), and then bring your donation over to one of CAMBA's several donation points in Brooklyn. The nonprofit provides clothing and more to NYC's neediest and says the need never lets up. The organization offers services and housing to the homeless, too.
Masbia Soup Kitchen Network – Brooklyn and Queens
Various locations, see website for details.
Masbia operates soup kitchens in Flatbush and Borough Park, Brooklyn, as well as Rego Park in Queens, and welcomes the help of volunteers 12 and older (children ages 12-18 must be accompanied by an adult) to serve hot meals to all who enter. Volunteers are welcome for onsite work, such as playing host in the restaurant-style dining rooms, bussing tables, washing dishes, prepping meals, and working in the kitchen. Volunteers are also needed to distribute flyers to individuals who might need Masbia's services.
New York Cares Coat Drive – Citywide
2019 collection kicks off mid-November
Another great opportunity for young children, who might ask why the Statue of Liberty is seen huddled and shivering in the snow on ads at this time of year. New York Cares' annual coat drive provides homeless and low-income families with something warm to wear. Donate gently used coats of all sizes or even start your own drive in your building or school. Collection sites are located around the city in transportation hubs, police stations, and participating stores. Check the New York Cares website for a complete list of drop-off locations.
NY Common Food Pantry 2019 Turkey Drive – Citywide
The New York Common Food Pantry served meals to over 62,000 people across NYC last year. Consider organizing your own drive at home, work, or school to help the pantry collect food to distribute to low-income New York families. Nonperishable items such as canned cranberry sauce, rice, gravy, stuffing mix, cake mix, pasta, and canned beans are best. No glass jars, please. The food drive runs from October 1 through November 20. NYCP also hosts a Toy Drive, from November 18 through December 12.
Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry – Citywide
Sign up to host a Friendsgiving celebration for No Kid Hungry. It's an easy way for you and your community to come together and give back to kids in need.
Citymeals on Wheels – Citywide
This charity provides local homebound individuals with hot, prepared meals. Children, accompanied by adults, can help to deliver meals. Children can also get involved by making holiday cards to be distributed to seniors with holiday meals.
Encore Meals on Wheels — Midtown West
Help Catholic Charities of New York deliver meals to seniors in the midtown Manhattan area. Families with children of all ages are welcome to sign up for three-hour shifts on Saturday mornings throughout November and December. Bring the gift of a delicious and nutritious meal, and provide homebound seniors with some company and smiles.
Remember, many charities accept Halloween candy for our military and their families.
To find additional kid-friendly ways to give back to the New York City community, subscribe to the FREE Doing Good Together/NY newsletter, a monthly roundup of local volunteer opportunities appropriate for families. And don't forget to check New York Cares' list of family-friendly volunteer opportunities as well.
A version of this story was published in 2017; it is updated annually. Katie Nave Freeman and Drew Kristofik contributed additional reporting.